Legendary Texas roots-music drummer Uncle John Turner passed away today at Austin’s Seton Hospital from complications of hepatitis C. He was 62.
Turner was born and raised in Port Arthur, where he first played with Jerry LaCroix. Later he hooked up with Johnny and Edgar Winter, eventually convincing Johnny to ditch R&B covers and start a full-on blues band, also featuring bassist Tommy Shannon. This line-up, occasionally augmented with Edgar on keys, recorded the classics The Progressive Blues Experiment, Johnny Winter, and Second Winter and performed at Woodstock. “Straight out of Texas with a hot trio, Winter made blues-rock music for the angels,” blues-rocker turned critic Cub Koda reflected years later.
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Winter and Turner parted ways in the early ‘70s, and Turner went on to perform with Krackerjack, which included young guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jesse Taylor. Turner spent a few years in Houston, backing honky-tonker Isaac Payton Sweat, pianist Ezra Charles, blues-rocker Alan Haynes and Gulf Coast music legend Joey Long. Turner also played on Rocky Hill’s Midnight Creepers album, and Haynes’ Live at the Big Easy.
After returning to Austin, Turner’s role as one of the house drummers at Antone’s and the Armadillo World Headquarters enabled him to sit in with Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Lightnin’ Hopkins and BB King. (Earlier in his career, he jammed with Jimi Hendrix.)
Last Sunday, Dan Electro’s hosted a benefit for “Unc,” with Haynes, LaCroix, Texas Johnny Brown, the Rehabiliteens, Hightailers and Allison Fisher. Two other benefits, one at San Antonio’ s Texas Pride Barbecue on July 31 and another at Antone’s in Austin August 1, will continue as planned, with Johnny Winter slated to headline both. See www.uncathon.com for more info or to donate to Turner’s memorial fund.
Turner is survived by his wife, Morgan. Funeral arrangements are pending. – John Nova Lomax